Online gambling sites urged: Keep addicts out

Online gambling sites urged: Keep addicts out

Online gambling operators which get the green light to continue offering their services here should screen out addicts, and restrict the time and credit punters can spend on their sites, say industry experts.

These are some of the ways they can keep problem gambling in check, according to help groups.

Time is running out for most online gambling outfits in Singapore. The Remote Gambling Bill, which could become law when it is read again in Parliament next month, will make Internet and telephone gambling illegal.

Non-profit Singapore-based operators may be exempt, but they must have stringent safeguards in place.

Websites should have a registration process that is very comprehensive, that would cover people on social assistance, those who are bankrupt, or people with casino exclusion orders, said Mr Gerald Goh, clinical director of counselling centre ECMS Consultants.

Such people should not be allowed to sign up for accounts.

Mr Goh added that websites should also publish the odds to help people understand what is stacked against them.

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah felt that pre-registration for gamers would be useful.

"The operators can ask questions to know if the applicant is on exclusion lists, for example, and can limit the credit for the applicant," she said.

Online gambling through the Internet and mobile apps is becoming increasingly popular.

This year, the market is estimated at US$416 million (S$528 million), up from US$383 million last year, according to Global Betting and Gaming Consultancy.

A Home Affairs Ministry survey of 1,000 Internet users last year found that almost three in 10 had gambled remotely at least once in the past year.

So, the new laws will help to ensure that "stringent social safeguards are in place to protect our citizens from the potential harm of remote gambling", said a National Council on Problem Gambling spokesman.

Major state-run operators Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club have said they will seek exemption once the Bill becomes law, although both said it was too early to comment on their potential safeguards.

Ultimately, restrictions can only go so far, said addictions specialist Thomas Lee, who runs the mental health practice, The Resilienz Clinic.

"No matter what safeguards you have, people will find ways to gamble if they don't understand the consequences," said Dr Lee, stressing the importance of public education.

One gambler, who frequents online card room PokerStars, said the restrictions would force gamblers like him to use illegal websites where gamblers do cash transfers to bookies to place bets.

"Those who would be affected (by this Bill) are those who play on legal and respectable sites, and this is a group you probably don't need to police so much anyway," said the 28-year-old, who declined to be named.

This article was first published on Sept 27, 2014.
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